Pets as Ministry Partners

For more than a year, dedicated trained dog/handler teams from West Side’s Pet Ministry have been visiting nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the area, bringing a touch of home and smiles to the residents. They have also served as Sunday-morning greeters at West Side and visited George Washington Middle School.

The innovative program originated with Beth Staples, who first approached Pastor Marc and the Deacons. “I had rescued a dog and I thought she’d be a perfect therapy dog,” Beth said. “So, since there was interest, I put out the call for people who wanted to participate.”

Six dog-owner pairs ultimately passed the certification course, which took place in the Barn. Participants were Terry Erzmoneit with Merlin, Angela Gutekunst with Peaches, Genevieve Lowry with Rex, Carrie Austin with Joanna, Craig Ollenschleger with Watson, and Beth with her own dog, Piper.

The dogs were trained and tested on such things as their reactions to loud noises, new people or unexpected situations, which they might encounter in a medical emergency.

Beth feels that the Pet Ministry is helpful for both people and the animals. “The dogs enjoy it and so do the handlers and the residents,” she said. “I’d like to introduce the teams to our Sunday School classes too. The dogs are ideal tools for teaching kids to be loving and patient, as well as stewards of God’s creatures.”